Waiver of Further Disclosure- The First Case Under the Insurance Act 2015

The Insurance Act (IA) 2015, which came into force on 12 August 2016, applies in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (s. 23 of the IA 2015). It fell to the Court of Session (Outer House) in Scotland to deliver the first judgment under the Act in Young v. Royal and Sun Alliance plc [2019] CSOH 32.

The co-assureds (Mr Young and Kaim Park Investments Ltd, a company of which Mr Young was a director) brought a claim of £ 7.2 million for extensive fire damage to commercial premises insured. The insurer, Royal and Sun Alliance plc, rejected the claim on the basis that the assured failed to disclose material information (a commercial assured is under a duty of fair presentation under the IA 2015).

The policy had been entered through an insurance broker. The assured was requested by the insurance broker to fill in a proposal form which was prepared using the broker’s software. One part of the proposal form required the proposer to select from various options in a drop-down menu. The instruction read: “Select any of the following that apply to any proposer, director or partner of the Trade or Business or its Subsidiary Companies if they have ever, either personally or in any business capacity: …” The drop-down menu that followed this instruction included an option that any of the persons identified had been declared bankrupt or insolvent. Neither Mr Young nor Kaim Park Investments had been declared bankrupt or insolvent, however, Mr Young had previously been a director of four other companies which had entered into insolvency. The option which was selected on the proposal form was “None”. Accordingly, the proposal forwarded to the insurer showed the option selected, i.e. “None”, and the list of persons to which the declaration related. Once receiving the presentation, the insurer sent an e-mail to the brokers providing a quote for cover and a list of conditions. The conditions, inter alia, included: “Insured has never been declared bankrupt or insolvent.

In the present case, the assured’s argument was that the insurer’s e-mail response amounted to a waiver by the insurer of its right to receive the undisclosed information regarding the four insolvent companies.

The 2015 Act introduces no fundamental change on the law on waiver (a point which both parties agreed). By virtue of s. 3(5) (e) of the Act, the assured is not required to disclose a circumstance “if it is something as to which the insurer waives information.”

The judge, Lady Wolffe, reviewing the case law under the Marine Insurance Act (MIA) 1906 reiterated that waiver in this context can typically arise in one of two ways:

  • Where the insured had submitted information that would prompt a reasonably careful insurer to make further enquiries but the insurer had failed to do so (WISE (Underwriting Agency) Ltd v Grupo Nacional Provincial SA [2004] 2 All ER (Comm) 613); and
  • Where the insurer had asked a “limiting question” such that the insured could reasonably infer that the insurer had no interest in knowing information falling outwith the scope of the question (Doheny v New India Assurance Co [2005] 1 All ER (Comm) 382). The classic example is where the proposal form asks about convictions within the last 5 years and which can instruct waiver of information about convictions more than 5 years ago.

It was decided by Lady Wolffe that only the second of these forms of waiver could be relevant in the present case. Therefore, the key issue was whether it could be inferred from the e-mail of the insurer to the broker stating that the “assured has never been declared bankrupt or insolvent” that the insurer waived information regarding the involvement of Mr Young in other companies which had entered insolvency.

Reviewing the case law on the point, Lady Wolffe stressed that in determining whether the insurer’s email response amounted to waiver, the key consideration was whether a reasonable person in the position of the assured would be justified in thinking that the insurer had restricted its right to receive all material information. It needs to be borne in mind that when presenting the risk to the insurer, the broker utilized its own form rather than the insurer’s proposal form. The relevant part of the proposal form required the proposer to select from various options in a drop-down menu. The instruction read: “Select any of the following that apply to any proposer, director or partner of the Trade or Business or its Subsidiary Companies if they have ever, either personally or in any business capacity: …” The choices that followed this instruction included an option that any of the persons identified had been declared bankrupt or insolvent, but when assessing the risk, the insurer had only seen the selected option of “None” in the presentation. They had not seen the full list of options which the assured had selected from (which the judge referred to as matters concerning “Moral Hazards”). Therefore, the insurer’s email response intended to clarify that unknown matter. The insurer had done this by listing in the email the various hazards that required to be included. As a result, it was held that the reference in the email response to “the Insured” was not intended to limit the scope of the information being provided but had simply been used as shorthand for the group of persons identified in the presentation. Accordingly, there was no waiver on the part of the insurer with regard to the information not fully disclosed (i.e. the involvement of Mr Young in four insolvent companies).

Even though the case is the first one considered under the Insurance Act 2015, it does not shed any light on any of the novel concepts introduced by the Act. The decision was concerned with the preliminary question of waivers and was decided in light of authorities on the subject which have already existed for some time. Essentially, the fact that the broker’s own proposal form was used meant that the scope of information provided had been controlled by the assured and that it was impossible to be found as a waiver.

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